Holiday Carol Time: What Are These People Singing?
You walk into a room and a circle of people erupt in song, but the lyrics are hard to pinpoint. Is that a fa? sol? la? mi?
No, you are not on a Sound of Music trip. Those are the four notes of what is called shape-note music. This tradition of singing was created 160 years ago for a largely illiterate audience. People learn to sing the shapes of notes in a traditional bass, alto, tenor and treble division, before singing the words. In other words, the notes form the shapes of the four sounds.
The group in the video is the St. Louis Shape Note Singers. They gather Monday nights at Webster University, a regular session that occurs just about every other week.
"Salvation, o the joyful sound!/ 'Tis pleasure to our ears" etc. It's got Northeast Colonial America written all over it.
Feel free to knock on the doors of strangers and belting these tunes out.